Skip to content

Research suggests that socioeconomic status, age, gender, race, ethnicity, and other characteristics influences how we learn and solve problems.

Mobile devices also play an important role in how we learn and solve problems today, yet there is little research that shows how backgrounds affect how students use mobile devices to learn and solve problems.

As the dependence on mobile devices in learning continues to grow, this lack of research poses a serious problem, since, as educators argue, students must be prepared for a much different world from that of the previous generation. And today’s world demands complex problem-solving skills involving the use of mobile devices.

This is what prompted HU Interactive Media Professor Dr. Sa Liu and Computer Science Professor Mina Gabriel to launch a research project dubbed: Learner Characteristics on Problem Solving Using a Mobile Serious Game.

Harrisburg University awarded Dr. Liu and Gabriel a more than $18,000 University Presidential Research Grant to team with students on the project undertaken in November.

Dr. Liu and Gabriel have teamed with five Harrisburg University students and five high school students, who will design and develop the mobile game called Space Escape. The game will be designed from January through April and will be used to understand how students learn astronomy on a mobile device as it is created, Dr. Liu said.

“The findings will not only help understand the impact of individual differences on learning in an (educational) game environment, but also inform the game design to support learners based on their individual characteristics,” she said.

The team expects to wrap the first phase of the project by June 30. The findings will be written up and submitted to an international educational technology conference and to a peer-reviewed journal such as “TechTrends” and/or “Computers in Human Behavior.”

The new version of Space Escape the team designs will be tested in classrooms for teachers at a local middle school to use for free during the following academic year.

Long term, Dr. Liu said the research and development stemming from this research will form the basis of a book to be published by International Publisher of information Science and Technology Research (IGI Global). It also will be submitted for possible funding from The Institute of Education Sciences and the National Science Foundation.

“This project will provide design, development, and research opportunities to four to eight HU students and build collaborative relationships with a local school district,” Dr. Liu said. “According to the Program for International Student Assessment, U.S. student problem-solving performance ranked 24th out of 39 countries in 2003, ,24th out of 44 countries in 2012, and 14th out of 53 countries in 2015. Therefore, it is important to improve U.S. student problem-solving skills to prepare them for the future.”

About Harrisburg University

Accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, Harrisburg University is a private non-profit university offering bachelor and graduate degree programs in science, technology, and math fields. For more information on the University’s affordable demand-driven undergraduate and graduate programs, call 717.901.5146 or email,